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Ecology survey in Surrey

Any development project might well require an ecology survey to assess your site’s ecological characteristics. The first step is to arrange an ecological survey which will identify any issues that may be resolvable, enabling you to obtain planning consent from the local planning authority,

Leith Hill in Surrey.

Surrey and development

Surrey has a high demand for housing, and the county’s local authorities have a positive attitude toward development. However, the Environment Act 2021 means that planning applications face increasing scrutiny in terms of their impact on nature.

Surrey is one of England’s most densely populated shire counties with a population of 1.2m. It also has areas of Green Belt and is the most wooded county in Great Britain: 22% of its area is woodland, compared to the national average of 12%, and it has designated conservation areas and semi-natural ancient woodland. It’s been calculated that over 6,300 new homes are needed, and Surrey County Council aims to protect existing habitats and create new ones alongside development. Surrey’s 2050 Place Ambition document aims to encourage `proportionate and sustainable growth’ to promote a strong economy while improving the environment.

The North Downs in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

What is an ecology survey?

Your proposed development site will be assessed by an ecological consultant who will identify any protected species present and the relevant ecological constraints. The survey will establish what effect the development proposal would have on the environment.

Why do I need an ecology survey?

As part of the planning process, local planning authorities will usually require an ecology survey. Obtaining planning consent is dependent on your scheme meeting the local authority’s minimum requirements. The survey will include data that can be used to calculate how Biodiversity Net Gain will be achieved on your site; this is a planning policy requiring a site to demonstrate a 10% minimum increase in biodiversity after development compared to its pre-development state.

The different types of ecology survey

Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)

The Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)/Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey is the first survey in the process. Submitting a PEA survey to your local council at an early stage is advisable to prevent planning officers from rejecting your application on grounds of insufficient evidence, resulting in delays. The PEA will identify any environmental constraints on the site, establish whether further surveys are needed, and recommend mitigation measures to avoid harming wildlife.

The process involves an ecological consultant conducting a desk study followed by a site inspection: any protected animal or plant species present are recorded along with the potential constraints they may cause. To enable your scheme to proceed, the consultant will propose appropriate mitigation measures.  

To calculate the best approach for the existing habitats and ecological conditions on the site, a mitigation hierarchy must be used. The priority here is to avoid damage to habitats and the hierarchy ranges from the most desirable outcome to the least desirable. The second-best option involves adjusting the scheme to minimise harm to ecological features, while the third option involves restoration of part of the site’s original condition to create more biodiversity to compensate for any value lost due to the development. If these are not achievable, the final option is offsetting: new habitats are created off-site in compensation.

Ecological Impact Assessment

An Ecological Impact Assessment calculates a scheme’s potential impact on the environment based on the PEA survey results. Ecological consultants might need to conduct specific surveys such as bat surveys if your plans might affect bats, or great crested newt surveys.

European Protected Species Licence (EPSL)

If the above surveys reveal evidence of protected species, an EPSL may be required to grant the licensee permission to carry out activities that would otherwise be illegal, such as having to disturb bats or destroy their habitat. Planning consent must be obtained before an EPSL can be applied for, and three tests must be met for approval: a lack of satisfactory alternatives; public interest such as health and safety issues, and population maintenance meeting favourable conservation status.

Licence applications must be made to a Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation such as Natural England, Natural Resource Wales, or Scottish Natural Heritage.

Protected species

Protected animal species are safeguarded by legislation such as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2019, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Protected species surveys include badger surveys, barn owl surveys, reptile surveys, water vole surveys, bat surveys, preliminary roost assessments, otter surveys and surveys for dormice and great crested newts.

Ecological Walkover Survey

Providing supporting information to ensure that laws surrounding protected species are being adhered to, this survey can be carried out even after planning permission is obtained. It involves ecological consultants recording the plants, animals and habitat on the site.

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) assessment

BNG requirements mean that the biodiversity of an area must be improved by at least 10% following development, and pre-development plans must demonstrate this. A BNG assessment will work out how to retain important habitats to avoid biodiversity loss.

Invasive species survey

Problematic species on a site such as Japanese knotweed, giant Hogweed, Himalayan balsam and injurious weeds will be identified in this survey.

BREEAM assessment

This survey assesses a building’s level of sustainability and environmental performance.

Habitat Regulations Assessment

This survey assesses whether a planning proposal could affect the ecology and environmental management of a European site that’s protected by Habitat Regulations.

Timing your ecological survey

As ecological surveys and protected species surveys cannot be carried out all year round, it’s important to book them in good time to align with your development plans.

Find an ecological consultancy in Surrey

It’s important to identify an ecological consultancy with experience in meeting the requirements of your local council. Make sure that the ecological consultants are licensed and hold the relevant qualifications, and they will be able to give expert advice and information about the ecological services you need.

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